Some Virginia school systems say they’ll lose out under enrollment loss funding formula

Some Virginia school systems say they’ll lose out under enrollment loss funding formula
Those losses could take a big financial hit on local school divisions. (Source: Christine T. Nguyen/Minnesota Public Radio via AP)

Virginia schools have lost thousands of students over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the most recent figures from the Virginia Department of Education, enrollment has dropped by 45,000 students statewide, with the biggest decreases in kindergarten classrooms. Those losses could take a big financial hit on local school divisions, which receive funding from the state based on student attendance counts — better known to administrators as “average daily membership.”

Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget aims to mitigate those enrollment losses through a formula that would route additional state funding to schools based on their decline in enrollment. In theory, it means a district that’s lost 50 children since March would still receive funding for those students — holding schools harmless for unexpected drops in attendance.

But administrators and advocates are sounding an alarm over the formula. A study by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond nonprofit, found that the administration based funding on projected enrollment numbers for the spring of 2020 instead of actual student counts collected in March.

In practice, it means that more than half of the state’s 132 divisions — primarily rural and high-poverty districts — wouldn’t receive funding based on real-world enrollment losses.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.